Question 206 of 365: Where is the open book?

original title page of Jude the Obscure by Tho...
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Every time I put my son down for bed, he sees fit to be totally uninterested without a good amount of singing of songs and reapplying blankets. In between each one of these tries at sleep during which he may or may not actually close his eyes, I head over to the bookshelf with all of my old novels on it. As my son considers sleep for the twelfth time, I open up The Great Gatsby or if I’m feeling slightly more ambitious, Plato’s Republic. I read through all of the passages that I have highlighted or notated, which is quite a bit.

Each of the stars next to a given paragraph is enough for me to jump right back in to the person that I was when I first read the book. And as my son wakes up and goes back down with severe regularity, I keep on coming back to the fact that I have absolutely no way to retrieve those moments of insight without opening up each one of those volumes and reading that exact underlining, with scribbles that only I would understand.

Every time I stumble upon something that meant a great deal to me in a book I haven’t read for years, I feel this pang of regret that I didn’t read it on a digital device with syncable notes and sharable annotations. I look at a lot of the works that I read as an english major and how many of them are in the public domain. Each one of those I could have downloaded as an ePub file and opened up on an iPad or Kindle, had they only existed.

I know the intimacy of books is desirable, but sometimes I just wish that I could export those intimate moments and savor them more regularly. I don’t want to have the parts of me that I left on those pages get left behind. I want them at my fingertips.

And I know I could use Evernote to scan in or take pictures of those notes, but I really think that misses the point. If I am only copying over the pages that mattered then, there is almost no hope that I will read the entire work again and discover new things about the author and myself. I want the whole context of these notations. I want the whole story of why I starred entire sections. I want to search through and find the threads that bind together all of my braces hanging in the margins like unfinished picture frames ready to be hung in my digital memory.

I believe that this kind of work will happen when I am not responsible for digitizing the content itself, but only the annotations. I mean that all of the books I read as a student must be available in Google Books or some other easily searchable format. Then I want q scanner that only looks in the margins and maps it to a page number and a paragraph.

It would look something like the formula that a good friend of mine wrote in high school for knowing what page number he should be on in his very different version of Jude the Obscure. The class set was larger print, but my friend’s copy was an antique. He used his graphing calculator to concoct a formula for going back and forth between his book and ours. It worked flawlessly. I want the same thing for my notes. I want a way to map the words I wrote with the ones that my famous counterparts penned. Only then will I be able to look at the little diagrams I made up in the 9th grade with anything but nostalgia and regret.

If I want my past to live into my ore went I need a way to map it to something living. All of the books on that bookshelf are dead. Without commenting and liking or metadata, those words are not going to assemble themselves into something of value. And I want to find that value again, if for no other reason than to see exacltly who I was and how all of that has changed now that I am reading exerpts wle my son sits in his room, screaming because the door is stuck on the inside.

Because, it has changed, believe me.

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